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Connector Board Recaps 2016 Open Enrollment & Releases 2017 Affordability Schedule for Comment

Connector Board Recaps 2016 Open Enrollment & Releases 2017 Affordability Schedule for Comment

February 16, 2016

Last week, the board of the Massachusetts Health Connector met to discuss results from the 2016 open enrollment period and voted to release the proposed 2017 Affordability Schedule for public comment. Materials from the meeting can be found here.        

The meeting started with a warm send-off for Dolores Mitchell, who is retiring from a long career in public service. Mitchell ran the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) for nearly 30 years and served as a Connector Board member since its inception in 2006. Throughout her career, she has been leader in advancing access to affordable health care in the Commonwealth.

Health Connector Deputy Executive Director Ashley Hague and Chief Operating Officer Vicki Coates shared highlights from the 2016 Open Enrollment period, which ran from November 1, 2015-January 31, 2016. They started by looking at how the Health Connector made enrollment a smoother process by using direct mailing campaigns, logging additional call center hours, and setting up four additional walk-in centers across the state, among other efforts.

2016 Open Enrollment Update

Over 36,000 new members enrolled in Qualified Health Plans (QHPs) during Open Enrollment; for the first time, QHP enrollment broke the 200,000 mark, and 53,000 members are enrolled in dental coverage. The Health Connector saw a 94% retention rate, and a vast majority (80%) of people generally stayed within the same metallic tier (Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum). Renewing members also overwhelmingly (95%) chose to remain with the same carrier. Tufts Health Direct is the most popular plan for both subsidized and unsubsidized members. By far, Silver plans are the most popular plan among new members, with just under 6,000 new enrollees, followed by 1,900 for Gold plans.

Of the people who left the Health Connector, surveys suggest that the most common reason given was access to other coverage. Later this year, the Health Connector plans to reach out to this group to see exactly why they left the plan, in order to have a better sense of how to retain membership.

Proposed 2017 Affordability Schedule

Last year, the Board made changes to the Affordability Schedule which, in essence, changed the affordability standard to a percentage-based measurement, and not a fixed-dollar amount. In response to earlier feedback from the ACT!! Coalition, Health Connector staff tried to design an Affordability Schedule that would take into account cost-sharing. However, staff found no straightforward method for determining these costs. They also stated that incorporation of cost-sharing into the schedule could have unintended consequences, such as more people deciding that they can forego coverage without a penalty.

The proposed 2017 Affordability Schedule is very similar to the 2016 Schedule. The Board voted to release the proposed schedule for public comment. Comments are due to the Health Connector by March 4th, and the final schedule is expected to be voted on at the Connector’s March 10th meeting.

Board members engaged in conversation about the nuance of the individual mandate, increasing cost-sharing, and the understanding that the Affordability Schedule may not be the appropriate tool to tackle rising health care costs. Board member Michael Chernew noted that the increase in health insurance costs is directly related to the rising cost of health care. The Connector Board agreed to keep this conversation on the table and explore what their role may be in making coverage more affordable for consumers.

The next Connector Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 10th from 9-11am, One Asbhurton Place, 21st Floor, Boston.

       -- Sara O’Brien